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Tsilhqot’in Nation celebrates victory over Taseko Mines

Late last week, the Tsilhqot’in Nation got the news they have been waiting 30 years for. The Supreme Court of Canada denied Taseko Mines Limited’s right to appeal a federal government decision rejecting the mining company’s proposal for a $1.5-billion open-pit copper and gold mine.

The Tsilhqot’in Nation has refused to give consent to the project, saying it threatens a sacred area of profound cultural importance to them.

“This decision has been a long time coming,” Tribal Chairman of the Tŝilhqot’in National Government Joe Alphonse said in a statement late last week. “We are celebrating the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision today, and taking the time to reflect on the immense sacrifices made by our communities and members to finally have their voices heard and respected.”

In October 2013, an independent federal panel of experts concluded an environmental assessment report that the New Prosperity mine project “would have significant and immitigable impacts on water quality, fisheries and Tŝilhqot’in cultural heritage, rights and traditional practices. This New Prosperity Panel affirmed the importance of Teẑtan Biny (Fish Lake) and Nabaŝ as ‘unique and of special significance’ for the Tŝilhqot’in people,” the statement added.

The Council of Canadians stood and worked in solidarity with the Tsilhqot’in Nation as they fought to have to have their right to 4,380 square kilometres of territory west of Williams Lake in British Columbia recognized. The Council’s William’s Lake chapter has been actively involved for years, urging governments to recognize and protect Aboriginal title to the land.

We extend our heartfelt support for this Supreme Court ruling and call on all governments to respect the Tsilhqot’in Nation’s rights.

Many legal experts considered this case to be the most important aboriginal land case put to Canada’s highest court since the 1997 Delgamuukw decision. That decision, involving the Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en First Nations in B.C., saw the court recognize that aboriginal title to land exists.

Teztan Biny (Fish Lake) saved

The end of Taseko’s mining proposal also means a safe future for Teztan Biny (Fish Lake), a sacred area where traditional Indigenous ceremonies are held.

Taseko had initially planned to drain the lake and use it as a tailings pond using a loophole in legislation known as “Schedule 2.” When that plan was rejected, the company proposed a tailings pond above the lake and a plan to recirculate the lake water. This too was deemed too environmentally dangerous as experts concluded the lake would still end up contaminated.

The Council of Canadians launched a campaign opposing the Schedule 2 provision in the Fisheries Act (that allows the tailings from mines to be dumped into freshwater lakes designed by the federal government as “tailings impoundment areas”), and spoke against Taseko’s Prosperity and New Prosperity mine proposals that would have destroyed Teztan Biny.

Over the years we helped facilitate meetings with the federal government, presented at the federal review panel hearings, posted online action alerts, expressed our solidarity in media statements, protested outside Taseko annual shareholder meetings, delivered petitions, and were interveners at the Tsilhqot’in Nation’s historic Supreme Court challenge for Title on their territory.

This Supreme Court ruling is a profound victory that deserves acknowledgement and respect. However, some people are nervous this won’t be Taseko Mines’ last attempt to push mining in the area.

According to the Narwhal, “the company holds mineral leases and tenure rights for gold and copper deposits in the area and, although the mine cannot be built without federal approval, on the last day of the B.C. Liberal government’s time in office, the province granted an exploration permit, which does not expire until July 2020. Extensive exploration can be carried out without federal approval.”

Chief Alphonse said it is time for the mining company to move on. “Now we call on [Taseko Mines Ltd.] to accept that this is the end of the road for them. It’s time to move on and protect this sacred area for the survival of our way of life. We look forward to turning our focus and energy to supporting responsible economic projects in appropriate areas of our Territory, as we move towards building a regional economy that respects our culture, our spirituality and our Aboriginal Rights and Title,” he said. “B.C. should finally recognize the importance of this area to the Tŝilhqot’in and support the Dasiqox Nexwagwezʔan. The Nation should never have to face the burden of an industrial threat to this sacred area ever again.”